Gujarati favorites for a snacky morning or evening: (clockwise from top left) extreme comfort food steamed flour dish kicha-no-lot/papdi-no-lot; patuda-no-lot made of mixed pulse mix; the Maharashtrian pithla is gravy consistency, while junka is thicker, spicier.

By Tara Narayan

MY “Amrika” sister Mala turned up to visit like a Santa Claus loaded with goodies I love like blueberries, cranberries, goju berries and some of my favorite seasoned plums from Malaysia, and Malaysia’s national coconut jam called “kaya” (available in many flavored varieties now but the traditional is still the plain old golden brown kaya which entertains only egg yolks, freshly squeezed coconut milk and yes…(sigh)…some sugar (although I think one may also gula Melaka which is akin to Goa’s palm jaggery). For an aromatic scent insert a bundle of daun pandanus (screwpine, kewra) into the mix and simmer. Oh, kaya is the best of all spreads in the world but I’m biased, it’s definitely more nutritious and nowadays of course one may get canned kaya out in the stores of Penang or Kuala Lumpur.
Say, it’s been a feasting over the Holi holiday lately although the sister tells me I better go on intermittent fast mode as soon as possible to lose weight, that is skip breakfast and live on only lunch, and early light dinner…for all my weight has piled up again! (Sigh) It’s a never ending battle with the bulge and health and so much more. Intermittent fasting, says my much trimmer sister (who works out on pilates and goes for hiking holidays back in the US of A) , works beautifully and she practices it whenever she needs to.
Anyway, one of the days we were in a mood to make some Guju favorites of old and I said, you know how to make “papdi no lot”? That is a most delectable mass of steam cooked rice flour flavored with green chili-ginger, ajwain and scattering of sesame seeds. Some call this dish “khicha” or “khichi-no-lot.” One may relish it with a dry garlic chutney powder sprinkled on and laced with fresh ghani-pressed sesame/til seed oil…a memorable comfort Guju food if you like. Once a year most Gujarati households make these vast quantities of “bafelo” or steamed “papdi-no-lot” and then various family members massage the dough pliable and roll it out into thin discs to dry out in the sun to get papdi or kicha-na-papad – store and whenever you feel like them deep fry them or dry roast them over a choola to relish as savoury to live for crunchies.
BUT it’s the steamed rice flour khichi I’m writing about here, it’s very tricky to make and while making it neither the sis or me got it right. Ended up with somewhat loose consistency with lumps in the cooked dough, but we ate it all up, it was so flavorful! To make papdi-no-lot for more or less instant gratification, put say two cups of water to boil, adding in appropriate quantities of pounded green chili, ginger, ajwain seeds, don’t forget a pinch of soda…when this spiced-up water comes to a boil, sieve in a cup of rice flour gently, don’t stir. Just cover and put a weight on the cover. After water bubbles through the flour use a stick or rolling pin to stir up the cooked creamy-looking dough. It has to be stirred so well that no lumps remain. Then put the thick-bottomed vessel or “tope” on slow heat for a bit, tightly covered, just a few minutes and put off fire, wait for a while, take off cover, inhale the freshly made steaming hot papdi-no-lot….it’s something yummy!
Takes me back to my real old, old childhood days in village Gujarat when some dadi, mami, maasi, foi was forever making this speciality to take delight in. In fact, I consider Gujarati cuisine’s repertoire of steamed flour food as very flavorful and enshrined with health notes! There are other takes on this steam-cooked flours but my all-time favorite will always be bajri-no-lot wherein on it is steam cooking freshly milled pearl millet flour, but this is best made in buttermilk on the boil, spiked with ginger-garlic, ajwain seeds, a green chilly if you like. Some housewives will add in ghee bhagru (leftovers after making ghee at home with collected malai in the fridge) to give it a unique rich flavor which I don’t like, if the bhagru is strong it turns the flavor of the dish yucky). I like my bajri-no-lot more or less austere with little else but lots of pounded garli and ajwain seeds boiled in buttermilk, a dollop of ghee of course.
Another favorite is patuda-no-lot wherein a mixed dal or “handvo” mix is used and this speciality can be prize worthy too….the idea of steaming flours to arrive at a most agreeable foodie dish to feast on is not new. If I may remind you in Mumbai, in Marathi-speaking households they steam gram flour to arrive at a savory pithla or the thicker, spicier jhumka…to be eaten with jowari or nachne (also ragi) bhakri of course, crushed onion and red garlic chutney on the side. Don’t scoff, poor people’s food! At one time poor people’s food was the best, offering wholesome nutritional values and kept one fit and fine on one’s toes. Mind you, these steamed flours are oftentimes relished only with a lacing of pure home-made cow’s ghee! Well, the poor stayed with cold-pressed oils, the rich could afford real ghee (then the horrid hydrogenated vegetarian so called vanaspati ghee came along, all junk food is fried in this or palmolein oil nowadays, stay far away from anything palmolein oil).
In the good old days in village Gujarat I remember only fine groundnut would be used for frying and the flavor of groundnut came through most pleasantly. This is to say it’s great to have a sister around to whip up Gujarati old favorites like papdi-no-lot and gavar-ni-dhokli! A belatedly happy Holi! May this year’s spring time weather usher in some real achche din for me!
ALL this remind me, if you’re looking for a most scrumptious non-coconutty and non-peanut garlic chutney powder in the market there is this more or less come lately Society Spice Secrets Dry Garlic Chutney manufactured and packed by Madhav Agro Foods (right, Baroda-based)…it’s superlatively good. Proprietary food ingredients listed are “garlic, red chili powder, salt, corn oil, fenugreek, mustard seeds, cumin, coriander powder, sesame seeds, turmeric powder, asafetida” and acidity regulator citric acid, sodium benzoate as preservative of course. The flavor is the most agreeable I’ve come across. Since I don’t use green or red chilies in my cooking at home I keep this useful chutney on the table and whenever I’m in need of some controlled fire in my food I sprinkle it on…atop buttered toast, in savory oatmeal, in salads and sauces, even sabzi and dal. It lends itself to lots of imagination. The Dry Garlic Chutney comes in 100g packs for Rs45 and they also have Onion Chutney and Tamarind Date Chutney worth exploring while sandwich-making.

Khichu are village breakfast fare since they are very quick and easy to prepare with few ingredients, and healthy as well. Ingredients 1 cup bajra (pearl grey millet) flour 5 chopped green chillies – optional 1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera) or ajwain 2 to 3 garlic (lehsun), crushed A pinch of turmeric powder 1 tbsp sesame seeds -til 1-2 tbsp oil (or desi ghee) 3 cups water salt to taste 2 tbsp curd can be added to get a nice piquant flavor. METHOD: In a big pot boil to boil 3 cups water. In a kadai, heat up oil, add cumin / ajwain seeds and let it splutter. Add sesame seeds, green chili and garlic and turmeric powder. Saute and add bajra(millet) flour stirring continously with wooden spoon to make sure flour doesn’t get lumpy. Add beaten curd. Now add boiling water and cook till it gets thicker and raw taste of Bajra is gone. Serve hot or warm laced with good sesame seed oil.

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